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Tempera - Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings Art Dictionary

The term tempera is loosely applied to any method in which the pigment is mixed with oil and water and an emulsifier which combines the oil and water. The result is that when applied and the water evaporates, the mixture again becomes insoluble in water.

The term tempera is now generally confined to the most common form of the medium which is egg tempera. Egg has probably been used in paint since antiquity and it remains the principal medium for icons produced in the service of the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. However, tempera is mainly associated with European art from the beginning of the 13th century until the end of the 15th century; it was the standard technique for panel painting in this period, until it began to be overtaken by oil paint.


Painting with tempera is a demanding craft. Unlike in oil painting, each colour or tone required has to be pre-mixed, for they cannot be blended on the picture surface. The variety and subtlety obtained by skilful painters depended on a slow building-up process, in which each stage would have a calculated effect upon the next. Tempera has more luminosity and depth than fresco, but its range of colour and tone is limited and it cannot achieve the close imitation of natural effects attainable in oil painting. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries it was very common for pictures to be painted in a mixture of the two techniques, with tempera typically providing a quick-drying underpaint to which oil glazes were applied. Subsequently tempera was virtually forgotten for centuries, until there was a revival of interest in the 19th century, stimulated by the rediscovery and publication of Cennini's treatise. Restorers, forgers, and also a few artists began to experiment with the technique, and certain 20th-century artists have favoured it.

 

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